Sunday, September 29, 2013

My (Actual) Playlist

A while back, I posted my "Anti-Playlist," which consisted of songs that I absolutely hate, as well as detailed explanations why. Because I can't think of anything worthwhile to write about, and because I really like lists, here's a list of a few songs that I absolutely love. It's not a comprehensive list, but it's some old favorites along with a few I've been listening to a lot lately.

This was the opening track on Simon's Graceland album, which I listened to pretty much every day between the ages of 4 and 6. It was the first album I ever loved, and it had some great stuff on it, most notably "You Can Call Me Al." "The Boy in the Bubble" was by far the funkiest track, though. I never got around to upgrading the old cassette to a CD, so I went a good decade or so without listening to it again before I finally picked up a Greatest Hits album about a year ago. I'm pleased to say that absence has indeed made the heart grow fonder, and although Peter Gabriel's cover is excellent, Simon set the bar delightfully high.

"Without You" by Harry Nilsson

The name might not ring any bells at first, but if you've ever watched You've Got Mail, you've heard quite a few of his more popular songs. But this is the most heartrending and powerful of them all, one that rivals even the great Roy Orbison with its ability to haunt you with the power and beauty of its vocals. Nilsson is called at times the "Fifth Beatle," although he never achieved their level of popularity. I'm glad to have discovered him, though. And this one showed up in an episode of The Simpsons a while back. 

"First We Take Manhattan" by Leonard Cohen

Although I first heard John Cale's take on "Hallelujah" in Shrek, I discovered Cohen himself through Watchmen, which I think has one of the best soundtracks of all time. As much as I love Cohen's "Hallelujah," though, I like "First We Take Manhattan" even more. It's dark, sardonic and sinister, and I love that about it. There is also a very good dance remix, which I typically shy away from, but this is really quite good. I do prefer the original, mind you; nevertheless, this alternate take is well worth sharing.

"Muswell Hillbilly" by The Kinks

I've liked The Kinks since I was a kid, but I would never have even heard of this song were it not for Matt Meacham, a folklore teacher at Missouri State University-West Plains who over time became a good friend of mine. This is a deeeeeeep cut from their collection, and there's an interesting story behind it that I don't feel like explaining at this time. It's quirky and catchy, and is one of my very favorites of theirs now. Of course, they also put out classics like "You Really Got Me," "Lola" and "Where Have All the Good Times Gone?", but if I'm going to share another one with you, it'll have to be "Alcohol," one of the greatest, strangest, most hilarious and raucous tunes of all time.

"What's on Your Mind (Pure Energy)" by the Information Society.

Best use of Star Trek voice-over to date. It's really hard to get more '80s than this . . . very heavy emphasis on synthesizers and general awesomeness to be found. It gets stuck in my head on a regular basis, but unlike many songs of today, it's a welcome distraction to have this one rattling around in my skull. I don't have anything else from them to share, so I'll instead give you another '80s gem, "Love My Way" by the Psychedelic Furs, used to best effect in the bar scene in The Wedding Singer. It's one of my all-time favorite '80s songs, and actually makes a xylophone look cool, so enjoy with my blessing!

"Heathen (The Rays)" by David Bowie

I've been a Bowie fan since I was a wee lad. I started with "Rebel Rebel" and worked my way up from "Golden Years" to "Let's Dance." I was delighted and terrified by his appearance in Labyrinth, ecstatic to see his cameo in Zoolander and pleasantly surprised to see his turn as Nikola Tesla in the otherwise-unmemorable film The Prestige. Bowie is the consummate showman, and although some of his identities through the years were weird even for a progressive glam-rocker, he nevertheless knew how to create and manipulate energy in a crowd. One of the most fascinating rock stars of the 20th century and now, I found "Heathen (The Rays)" to be the most chilling and poignant of his entire prolific library of songs (along with "Ashes to Ashes"). Although "Let's Dance" remains my favorite, this one's been getting the most play as of late on my playlist. And if you haven't heard his new album, The Next Day, you should give this funky new tune a listen.

"I Know It Hurts" by Alter Bridge

I have a confession to make: I love Creed. And I know there has to be something wrong with me if I love Creed and hate Pearl Jam, but there it is, out there in the open for all to mock. Creed's comeback album, Full Circle, is jam-packed with great stuff, from the introspective "A Thousand Faces" to the adrenaline-surging "Overcome" to the softer "Rain." But a year after Full Circle's fall 2009 release, guitarist Mark Tremonti's other rock band, Alter Bridge, released ABIII, which I have to say was even better. It's more unabashed hard rock, which I love. For a slower one, though, one of my favorites is "Ghosts of Days Gone By." 

"Turn to Stone" by the Electric Light Orchestra

I have fond memories of those childhood days when my oldest brother Mike would come to visit us in his white-with-black-stripes '71 Chevelle and we'd go cruising around listening to sweet tunage. He introduced me to music ranging from the Bee Gees to the 2 Live Crew (Mom would not be thrilled about the latter). One of my favorite CDs in his collection (aside from the deliciously stupid Booty Mix 2) was Strange Magic, a two-disk album of ELO's greatest hits. Mike's favorite song was "Don't Bring Me Down" (and to this day I'm convinced they're yelling "Don't bring me down, Bruce!"), but I preferred "Turn to Stone." It was fun and fast-paced, with a really nifty fade-in intro and was a great showcase of the band's vocal harmonies. For a great showcase of frontman Jeff Lynne's awesome pipes, you might also give "Endless Lies" from Balance of Power a listen.

"Down at McDonnelzzz" by Electric Six

First off, I simply MUST insist you watch the video. It is truly bizarre, and E6 frontman Dick Valentine's grin will haunt your dreams forever. And it's also freaking awesome, as is the song itself. It's basically Murphy's Law meets the night shift at a certain fast food chain, when a band of ruffians accosts the late-night employees as they try to close down for the night. I find myself humming this tune every time I pass said fast food establishment, and I suspect you will too. For more E6, perhaps their most iconic songs (and videos) thus far are "Gay Bar" and "Danger: High Voltage!". You can't go wrong with either. 

"Comfortably Numb" by Pink Floyd

David Gilmour is my all-around favorite guitarist, and the solo at the end of this song gives me chills every time. Pink Floyd is one of those bands that has a song for every mood, and "Comfortably Numb" is perfect for breaking up writer's block. It's simultaneously hopeful and cynical, with Roger Waters' snarling tone dredging up an almost Dr. House level of cynicism and Gilmour's more conventionally beautiful voice painting images of bittersweet joy and nostalgia. And again, that guitar solo is amazing. For added fun, check out this version with David Bowie on vocals. It's very different but delightful in its own way. 

"The Boxer" by Simon and Garfunkel

Out of all Simon and Garfunkel's songs (and I love them all), this is the one that tugs most insistently at my heart strings. This is the one I can listen to over and over. Mumford and Sons did a great cover version, but Simon and Garfunkel will never be surpassed. There's something magical about the way their voices blend--the soulful lows of Simon mixed with the anguished highs of Garfunkel. Heck, this song was part of what made the opening scene of Intolerable Cruelty so memorable, thanks also to Geoffrey Rush. Simon & Garfunkel are my absolute favorite artists, and this is my favorite of their songs. 

"Poison" by Alice Cooper

This one kinda sticks out like a sore thumb on my list, because Alice Cooper is a radically different kind of musician from the likes of Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen. But this song speaks to me. As someone who has a tendency to be attracted to unhealthy relationships, I can relate to Cooper's description of a woman who is so harmful and yet so very irresistible that she can't be let go, even though to love her is to embrace certain doom. Plus, it's extremely catchy. Another good one from Alice is this little number, which was literally the only good thing to come from Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives

"Big Time" by Peter Gabriel

This might very well be my favorite song (plus, the video is equal parts awesome sauce and Claymation nightmare fuel). It's a song that perfectly captures my life up to this point. Case in point:

"The place where I come from is a small town. They think so small, they use small words. But not me--I'm smarter than that. I've worked it out. I've been stretching my mouth to let those big words come right out."

That right there says a lot about me. Not to sound arrogant, but I'm from Couch, Missouri. There are MAYBE 75 or 80 people there, it's in the middle of nowhere. Blink and you'll miss it--the sign is double-sided, so as soon as you get there, you're already leaving, for whatever that's worth. Even though I was born and raised there, and it will always be home, I have never fit in and likely never will. But "Big Time" became my anthem, reminding me that I could strive for more, and that a humble beginning does not necessarily mean settling for less than what I want. And now, thanks to hard work and not a small amount of good fortune, I've finally hit my stride. I'm about to graduate from the finest journalism school in the country. I've won awards for my work both as a writer and an illustrator. I have close to 100 bylines to my name and I've seen my work published in several different papers and magazines. I'm not at the big time yet, but I'm closer now than I ever thought possible. In the words of Mr. Gabriel, "My heaven will be a big heaven, and I will walk through the front door."

That's all I've got. But if you must have more, here's Gabriel wearing a muscle suit under the Joker's purple zoot suit. Enjoy!